There are 17 patients in the Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre’s intensive care unit as of late last week. (File photo by Advocate staff)

There are 17 patients in the Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre’s intensive care unit as of late last week. (File photo by Advocate staff)

Red Deer hospital ICU admissions stable, but rising, says surgeon

The Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre’s intensive care unit is in better shape now than it was in late-December and early-January despite rising COVID-19 case numbers, says a local surgeon.

“That being said, (ICU admissions are) definitely going up,” said Keith Wolstenholme, an orthopedic surgeon. “Last week I think we only had three COVID patients in there and I think we’re close to double digits now for COVID patients.”

Overall, there are currently 17 patients in the Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre’s intensive care unit, Alberta Health Services said Friday. That number includes patients with both COVID-19 and non-COVID.

The hospital has a 12-bed intensive care unit and a further six-bed cardiac care unit that can be used if needed to support the most critically ill patients who require a ventilator, AHS added.

“In times of demand, the six CCU beds can be converted to serve as ICU beds, which AHS has done in response to increased demand due to COVID-19,” AHS said.

“To support the increase in ICU beds the site has added additional staffing supports, including ICU nurses and physicians. The hospital can increase up to 28 ICU beds if necessary as part of the site’s pandemic response plan.”

Wolstenholme doesn’t work directly in the ICU, but said he “keeps a pulse” on what’s happening in the unit.

The hospital’s ICU was “double-bunking people and we were at 200 per cent capacity” during the final month of 2020 and first month of 2021, said Wolstenholme. There is always concern those levels could be reached again, he added.

“I think we know from living with this for 16 or so months, that with more cases out in the community, eventually that filters down to more people getting sick. As more people get sick, more people require hospital admissions and more people will require intensive care,” he said.

More young people are getting sick now as well, Wolstenholme noted.

“A lot of our more vulnerable population has been vaccinated already,” he said.

“More young people are going into ICUs now. Younger people generally stay longer in the ICU. Whereas an older person might be ventilated for one to two weeks, a younger person might be ventilated for three to four weeks.

“It takes a smaller number of sick people to run out of ICU beds if you’re not having good turnover in the ICU.”

Wolstenhome said you always want to have a bit of “wiggle room” when it comes to a hospital’s capacity.

“You don’t want to be at 100 per cent capacity in the hospital in general, but also specifically in the ICU,” he said.

“We don’t know if there’s going to be a bus crash or if a way worse variant of COVID comes through. You don’t want to always be running at 110 per cent or 120 per cent. It’s good news there’s only 17 in the ICU right now because you just never know when you’re going to need a couple more ventilators.”

Wolstenholme encourages Red Deerians to get vaccinated: “That’s the only way out of this.”

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